By Elizabeth Corney, Staff Editor
I walk through the dark street picking my way around cars double parked on the sidewalk. As I pass by yet another embassy, I notice all the soldiers guarding the place are playing games on their smartphones, machine guns casually resting in their arms or against a chair. They don’t seem to mind or notice when I slip behind their booths to navigate the crowded street. When I imagined traveling to Cairo, I pictured a vast sprawling city with narrow streets and tiny shops placed haphazardly in crumbling buildings. I saw a city spilling over with people. Reality was close to my imagined scene. However, I was not prepared for the police and military presence. Soldiers and police officers are everywhere. It took me a couple of days to understand that the men wearing matching sweaters and berets who helped us load and unload the bus full of Wake Div. students were police officers. It took a couple more days to realize that we had a police and/or military escort following us everywhere. In addition, an armed guard rode with us on the bus.
You might think that all of this made me feel nervous, it didn’t. The scariest thing I did in Egypt was cross the street on foot-that is terrifying. The second scariest thing I did was accidentally leave the door to my hotel room ajar all night (I know). I didn’t feel more or less safe based on the presence of people with guns though they sometimes helped us get through traffic quickly. I felt relatively safe because I was a tourist and most of the people I met rely on tourists for their livelihood.
Although the Wake Div. trip is intentionally framed as a pilgrimage and educational experience, we are still tourists in the eyes of the government and people who sell kitsch. Others’ experiences of police and military are much different. The military and police’s main jobs are to protect tourism and keep order. When a traffic snarl turned into a fist fight, our escort broke it up quickly with a pop to the jaw of one of the fighters. I can’t imagine an officer or soldier hitting a tourist. I’m sure no one would speak out against the police for fear of retaliation. I’m equally sure that plenty of people are justified in feeling resentment towards them. Some things become obvious when you see them played out somewhere else. How you feel about police depends on who you are. Marjane Satrapi summed up an important truth, “You are American, I am Iranian…The difference between you and your government is much bigger than the difference between you and me. And the difference between me and my government is much bigger than the difference between me and you. And our governments are very much the same.”